Google Webmaster Tools (Search Console) is among the most powerful webmaster tool in the arsenal of the SEO specialist. By using google webmaster tools, you can pretty much control and manage how you want your site to be viewed by Google. This guide shows you how using google webmaster tools can drive large amounts of natural traffic to your website.
What is Google Webmaster tool?
If you are familiar with “Google Webmaster Tools”, then you would already have an idea of Google Search Console. Since “Google Webmaster Tools” (GWT) had become a valuable resource for various people – SEOs, marketing professionals, business owners, designers, and app developers, Google decided to change its name in May 2015 to be more inclusive of diverse group of users.
Google Search Console is a free service that lets you learn a lot of information about your website and people who visit it. You can use it to find out interesting things like how many people are visiting your site and how they are finding it, whether more people are visiting your site on a desktop computer, mobile device or tablets. Which of the pages on your site are most popular? It also helps you find & fix website errors, submit a sitemap, create and check a robots.txt file.
Why to use Google Webmaster Tools?
- Creates and monitors content that delivers visually engaging search results
- Makes sure Google can access your content
- Submits new content for crawling and removes content you don’t want to be shown in search results
- Maintains your site with minimal disruption to search performance
- Monitors & resolves malware or spam issues, so that your site stays clean
- Discovers how Google Search and the world sees your site
- Confirms which queries enabled your site to appear in search results
- Highlights queries that resulted into more traffic to your site in comparison to others
- Informs if company contact info, product prices or events are being highlighted in rich search results or not?
- Explains which sites are being linked to your website
- Discovers whether site is performing well for visitors searching on mobile or not?
Who should be using Google Webmaster Tools?
In simple words, anyone having a website! From newbie to advanced, from generalist to specialist, Google webmaster tools can help you improve your SEO
- Web Developer. If you are creating actual markup or code for your site, then Search Console helps you monitor & resolve common issues with markup, for example – errors in structured data.
- Site Administrator. Being a site admin, you care about healthy operation of your site. Search Console lets you easily monitor and in some cases resolve site load issues, server errors and security issues like malware and hacking. You can also use it to ensure that any site maintenance or adjustments you make, happen smoothly with respect to search performance.
- App Developer. If you own an app, you can deeply analyze how mobile users find your app using Google Search.
- Business owner who delegates. You would have hired a marketing specialist or a webmaster to help you set up your website with Search Console. In that case, you can sit with that person to ensure you have access & control to all of the reports for your website. In addition, it’s a good mode to understand how your site is performing in search results so that you can make imperative business decisions about your site.
- SEO specialist or marketer. Whenever you focus on online marketing, Search Console helps you monitor your website traffic, optimize ranking & make informed decisions about appearance of your site’s search results. You can utilize this information in Search Console to influence technical decisions for the website and do sophisticated marketing analysis along with other Google tools like Google Trends, Analytics and AdWords.
How to use Google Webmaster Tools
Let’s get started:
Adding a site to the google webmaster tools is a very simple process. First, log into your Search Console account (https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/home). Once you’re logged in, you’ll see a box next to a red button saying “Add Property.”
Enter URL of the site that you are trying to add in the box and click “Add Property.” Congrats! your site is now added to your Search Console account!
Before you access any data on your site, you need to prove that you are an authorized representative of the site. This is done through a process of verification.
There are 5 main methods of verification currently in place for Google Search Console. There is no real preference as to which method you use.
- The HTML file upload.Google provides you a blank, especially named file that you just have to place in the root directory of your site. Once you’ve done that, you just click on the verify button and you’ll get access to your Google Search Console data for this site.
- HTML tag.Clicking on this option will provide you a Meta tag that you can insert into the head of your home page. Once it’s there, click on verify button to view your GSC (Google Search Console) data. One item to note about using this method of verification is that it’s possible for the tag to be accidentally removed during an update to the home page. And then it would lead to a revocation of the verification, but reinserting the tag and clicking verify again will fix that again.
- Domain Name Provider.Choose your Domain Name provider from the drop-down list and Google will provide you a step-by-step guide for verification along with a unique security token for you to use.
- Google Analytics.If the Google account you’re using for Google webmaster tools is the same account as for Google Analytics and you’re using the asynchronous tracking code (with the code being in the head of your home page), then you can verify your site this way.
- Google Tag Manager. If you already use Google Tag Manager (GTM) (https://www.google.com/analytics/tag-manager/) for your site, then this might be the easiest way to verify your site. If you are going to try this method, you need to require “View, Edit, and Manage” permissions enabled for your account in GTM. Before trying this method, look at your site’s HTML code to make sure Google Tag Manager code is placed immediately after your site’s <Body> tag.
From Search Console Dashboard, select “Manage site,” and then “Verify this site.”
Now that you’re verified, you can log in and start examining the data for your site.
The first screen you’ll see is the dashboard.
This will give a quick view into some of the more pertinent information about your website, along with any new messages from Google. We shall cover each of the widgets shown here in their own sections.
When Google wants to communicate with a webmaster, this is the place it can do so. You can view some messages that may inform you that you have pages infected with malware. They can also detect a large number of pages on your site, that might be an indication of other problems, or even just an informational message that your WordPress installation needs to get updated to remove the possibility of anyone exploiting already known security holes in that platform.
Not all messages are bad. There can also be a possibility that you will get one that congratulates you on increasing traffic to one or more of your pages.
Clicking on the gear icon on the top right gives you access to the tools that formerly resided in the Configuration menu item.
Webmaster Tools Preferences
Here, you can mention whether you would like to receive a daily digest of your messages, and also the email account you would like them to send to.
Here you can tell Google some things about your site if you are not able to tell them in other ways.
Suppose, if you have a .com site, hosted in Dubai, but it’s targeted to the US, there aren’t too many signals to the search engines that indicates your intention. In this tab you can set your geographic target to the US, which will inform Google of your intentions for this site.
You can also set your preferred domain; whether you want site to show up in the search results with www or without www. Most sites will redirect from one to the other, or contain canonical tags, that will preclude the need for setting this here, but if you don’t have that capability, this is your way to convey Google.
The crawl rate option enables you to slow down the rate of Google’s spider’s crawl. You would only do this if you have witnessed server issues due to Google’s crawling. For the most part you’re going to let Google figure out what is the correct crawl for your site based on how often you add new content and update content.
Change of Address
If, on the rare occasion you plan to do so, migrating your entire site to a new domain, this is where you let Google know.
Once you’ve set up your new site, permanently redirected the content from old site to new site using a 301 redirect (https://moz.com/blog/url-rewrites-and-301-redirects-how-does-it-all-work), added & verified your new site on GSC, then you come to this option and inform Google of the move.
This must help index to be updated slightly more quickly than if Google were to just self-detect and follow 301s.
Google Analytics Property
If you would like to view your Google webmaster tools data in Google Analytics (GA), then you can use this tool to associate a site with GA account. Simply select any currently linked GA account to associate it with this site. Not having a GA account? Don’t mind you have the option to create it here.
Users & Site Owners
Here, you can see a list of all authorized users on the account, and their level of authorization. A new user can be added here if need arises.
Owners have permission to access every single item on the website.
Users with “Full” permission can do everything, of course except adding users, linking GA account, and informing Google about a change of address.
Users with “Restricted” permission have same restrictions as those with “Full” permission plus the following: They only have viewing capabilities on configuration data, cannot submit sitemaps, cannot submit URLs or request URL removals, cannot submit reconsideration requests, and only have the capability to view crawl errors & malware notifications (they cannot mark any of them as fixed).
This lets you check any verification issues/successes.
This section allows you to associate different Google accounts with your google webmaster tools account, so that they can be designated as officially connected to the account/site. They cannot view any data in GSC, but can perform actions on behalf of your website (for ex- creating an official YouTube account for the site, or posting to Google+ on behalf of site through an associated account).
To add an associate user:
- Simply click on “Add a new User” button.
- Enter email address that is associated with the account you’re associating.
- Select the type of association you want.
- Click “Add.”
To associate a Google+ page, if it’s the same account on GSC and Google+, you’re done. If you’re using different accounts:
- Navigate to the Google+ page.
- Click on the profile button on the left.
- Click “About” in the links section.
- Add a link to the site.
Clicking on the? icon to the right of this menu option brings a nice breakdown of various elements of a search engine results page (SERP).
Here, you can view information about all structured data elements that Google has located on your site, whether they’re from schema.org or older micro-formats.
The Data Highlighter is your new shortcut to rich snippets in Google. The data highlighter (https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/2692911?hl=en)
allows you to help Google identify some types of structured data on the pages without the need for the code to actually be implemented.
Let’s say, for example, you have an event that you want to promote. But you’re on a bit of a time crunch, so you can’t wait for resources to free up but you also know that this is only applicable for a few pages, so you shouldn’t have to derail an existing development project. In order to get started with Google webmaster tools:
- Simply log into Google Webmaster Tools
- Go to the “Data Highlighter”.
- Then select “Start Highlighting.”
- Select item type from the list
- Use your mouse to highlight text and notate it
- You are done, hit ‘Publish’
Here is where Google Search Console will inform you of issues with your title & description tags. As titles and descriptions should be unique for each page and should be within certain character length range, this section points out where you have issues that can and should be corrected.
For example, if all of your tag pages have same description, then it means you are not telling search engines much about what is on those pages.
Clicking through on any of these errors will give you a more descriptive overview of error & also will give you a list of pages where the error was detected.
Whenever Google determines that your site is an authority for a particular keyword, they’ll show a collection of links just below the main link, pointing to what they believe to be the most important links on that page. From time to time, they’ll show a link that you don’t particularly want to be surfaced and this is where you will correct that issue.
While you can’t specify actual pages that you want to display in the site links (that would be far too open to abuse), you can specify which pages you want to get removed. Simply enter URL of the page with the site links (not always just the homepage), afterwards type in the URL of the site link that you want to be removed.
Note that the erroneous URL may then be precluded from displaying in the site links for a certain period of time, but may return at some point in future (any time after 90 days from your last visit to the site links page), if it still appears to be an important link on that page, so you may want to periodically review your site links. Also note that, Google has now placed a limit of 100 on the no. of demotions you can active for a particular site.
Here you can get an overview of top keywords that returned a page from your site in the search results. Note the data shown here is collected in a slightly different manner that from your analytics platform, including GA, so don’t expect number to exactly get tallied.
Is it giving you an idea of top traffic-driving keywords for your site, the number of impressions and clicks and therefore the click-through rate (CTR), and the average position that your page was ranking for that particular query.
You can also view same data by page rather than by keyword. This shows you top traffic-generating pages on your site, and perhaps supports you in identifying those that you should concentrate on optimizing, high traffic generator in 11th position would be a much higher traffic generator in 8th position.
Links to Your Site
This section identifies the domains that link to you the most, along with your most-linked-to content. While most likely you won’t notice that every link Google has found is for your site, you will see more than if you went to google.com and searched for “link:yoursite.com.”
Here you can see top 1,000 pages on your site sorted by number of internal links to those pages. If you have a small number of pages on your website, you can reverse the sort order by clicking on Links header.
Any pages that show zero internal links have been orphaned and should either be linked to from somewhere on your site, or redirected to an appropriate page if they’re old legacy pages.
Here’s where Google will inform you of any site-wide or section/page specific manual penalties that they’ve applied to your site. Trust me, you don’t want to see any messages here!
The Index Status (https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/2642366?hl=en) allows you to track status of your site within Google index. How many pages are they showing as being indexed? Are there any worrying trends? Have you accidentally blocked large sections of your site from Google bot? This is a great place to seek answers to all those questions mentioned above and more.
If you receive a cease and desist letter from an attorney demanding that you remove a page from your site, if you accidentally break a news embargo, or release an obituary while the person is still breathing, you will most likely want to get that page out of Google as soon as possible.
The first step is to either remove page itself or 301 (https://moz.com/blog/url-rewrites-and-301-redirects-how-does-it-all-work) it elsewhere so that it can’t be crawled as well indexed. This prevents users and crawlers from getting to it, but the URL will still be in the index, and page can still be found in the cache. That’s where this tool comes in.
Enter URL that you want to remove, click continue, then select whether you want it to be removed from search results & the cache, or just from the cache or if you want an entire directory removed. Clicking Submit Request adds it to the removal queue. Typically this request will be processed in 2 to 12 hours.
Here’s where you get to know about errors that Google has detected when crawling your site over past 90 days. It’s an invaluable tool because it helps you identify a variety of issues on your site, from server errors to missing pages, and errors in between.
The Google Webmaster tools shows number of errors, lists pages, & depicts a graph of your count over time for that particular error so you can see whether it has been a gradual change or a more sudden occurrence (perhaps a code push caused unforeseen errors with a section of the site that no one noticed).
This section should be a frequent port of call, as you keep an eye on any new issue that could impact crawling of your site. If your site has in Google News or either has a mobile, you will see tabs dedicated to any crawl errors specific to those products.
The crawl stats section provides you an idea of how fast crawlers are able to read pages on your site. Spikes are to be expected here, however if you see a sustained drop in pages crawled, or a sustained spike in time spent downloading a page, or in size of a page, then that’s an indication that you must take a look and see what’s changed on your site, perhaps you added a new partner module, that has created a bigger than expected addition to the footprint on your site.
Fetch as Google
Here, you basically view your pages as Google views them. They’ll return the HTTP response, the date and time, and the HTML code, including the first 100kb of visible text on the page.
This is a great way of verifying that Google crawler sees the page as you expect it to (remember the crawler is supposed to see the same page as user would see), and that there are no externally injected hidden links on that particular page.
If the page looks the way you expected, then you can submit it to the google webmaster tools index. You are allowed 500 fetches/submissions per month, and 10 linked page submissions per month (submitting a page and all pages linked from it at the same time).
This section is the place to test out your current robots.txt against any of the pages on your site to verify whether they can be crawled or not. You can also test out modifications to your robots.txt to view whether they’d work as you anticipate against various pages on your site.
Here’s where you can access all the information about sitemaps that google webmaster tools has been informed of. To test a sitemap, click add/test sitemap button, and google webmaster tool will inform you if sitemap appears to be valid. If it is, then simply add sitemap using same procedure, except clicking the “add sitemap” button.
Note that the default view here is to only show sitemaps that you have added. To view those that have been added by other authorized users on the account, click “all” tab.
The page shows the sitemaps that you’ve submitted, the no. of pages they found in each, and the no. of those pages that they’ve indexed. You can also see quite clearly if there are any issues that they’ve detected within your sitemaps. Just click on the warnings hyperlink to view them all.
With the introduction and use of canonical tags, this feature is not used as much as it used to be. What it does is that it enables you to specify a URL query string parameters that should not be considered when examining URLs on site in order to determine unique URLs.
For example, if you had a tracking parameter that you use for a particular campaign, then page is obviously the exact same page as when it’s reached without tracking parameter. Entering tracking parameter here informs Google that they should ignore the tracking parameter when looking at the URL.
If Google has detected security issues or any malware on your site, then this is where it’ll list it out (it will also appear in messages section). If you see a page here you’ll want to get it fixed as soon as possible, for that click on “Request a Review” button that will be displayed here.
This section contains links to tools that are outside of GSC, but are of interest to webmasters, such as the Structured Data Testing tool (https://search.google.com/structured-data/testing-tool), that enables webmasters to test their schema implementations, the
Bing Webmaster Tools
Now that you’re up to speed on Google Webmaster Tools/Google Search Console, but don’t forget another search engine offering a free toolset to webmasters that you should also be using: It’s Bing (http://www.bing.com/toolbox/webmaster)
Now that everything is set up and verified, you can start taking in all the information that Google Webmaster Tools has for you. Knowing how your SEO is working and whether your rank position is increasing or not can be easily determined with the Google Search Console
Also read up : How to improve website ranking with SEO